How can we protect our day-to-day, our joie de vivre, our desire to endure?
When I think about sustainability, I usually think about global issues: endangered animals, climate change, air pollution, toxic chemicals (I could go on and on, unfortunately).
These issues are critical to our continued survival, of course. But what also matters is the sustainability of everyday life. How can we protect our day-to-day, our joie de vivre, our desire to endure?
This is a much harder question to answer in the mega-cities of developing countries, where the realities of environmental degradation are impossible to ignore. Here, millions upon millions of people crowd into dilapidated buildings in areas choked with traffic and smog, overlooking discolored rivers littered with plastic.
I have visited nearly a dozen such cities on two continents, each a grim reminder of our worldwide dystopian future if we continue unchecked.
But people living in these cities also offer us clues to recovery, if only we are smart enough to pay attention to their examples. In Lima, I came across a tiny oasis on a crowded sidewalk, a collection of pleasant wooden benches and potted plants.
A coalition called Ocupa Tu Calle (Occupy Your Street) creates mini-parks throughout the city, inviting people to enjoy them for free. So far they have created 18 such parks in Lima, reclaiming disused city spaces to make quiet, pleasant areas to relax.
To be clear, mini-parks will not save the earth. To protect our world’s most precious assets, we will need systemic, top-down change. But often such change is precipitated by grassroots movements –populations demanding better conditions (e.g., the battle against smog in Los Angeles). And how will we know that we deserve better without day-to-day reminders of the best our world has to offer, of its potential for reprieve in the chaotic conditions we have created?
U.S. cities continue to grow, our infrastructure is crumbling, and resources are dwindling, even as laws and regulations that protect our air, water, and soil are under ongoing threat. But we still have the opportunity to make important choices. As we do so, I hope that we will take Lima’s example to heart and remember to occupy our environment.